Respectful Insolence

Over the weekend, it appears that a post of mine, in which I included a link to a video of comic Tim Slagle doing the comedy routine that, in my never-ending effort to live up to the stereotype of the humorless skeptic that the credulous like so much, I castigated for its misrepresentations of science in the pursuit of a punchline, has been invaded by a number of “skeptics” of anthropogenic global warming. Indeed, it makes me wonder if someone e-mailed the link to my post to a Libertarian mailing list or something, given that, as of this writing, no one that I can detect has linked to the post. How else to explain the appearance of Donna Mancini, Libertarian Candidate for the 3rd District of the U.S. Congress, comedian Lou Angelwolf (whose MySpace page is here), comedian Bengt Washburn (webpage here), and even Teri O’Brien, a radio host on Chicago AM station WLS 890?

This influx struck me as highly unlikely to be a coincidence, given that none of these people, to my knowledge, even knew of the existence of my blog, much less have ever commented here before, but it got me to thinking. Their comments seemed to involve one of two things, both of which echoed the main gist of Tim’s routine, either that Al Gore is a hypocrite or, as one so devastatingly put it, a “fat, bloated idiot” (and therefore the science behind AGW must be wrong) or that it’s all a conspiracy on the part of liberals, scientists, the government, etc. (and therefore the science behind AGW must be wrong). Couple that with Tim Slagle’s routine, in which apparently the reason climate scientists are sounding the warning about greenhouse gases is not because they are alarmed by AGW to the point of advocating various urgent means of decreasing the their production, but rather because they’re either frustrated geeks getting revenge for indignities suffered on the dodgeball court or have a lust for power. So struck was I by the sameness of the comments that I thought back to other encounters and realized one common characteristic among defenders of pseudoscience or crank ideas. Although by no means the only common characteristic, it I’ve noticed over the years that people prone to using crank arguments or to defend pseudoscience put an inordinate amount of emphasis on the person holding views at odds with theirs, particularly their motivation.

Of course, it’s not just AGW “skeptics” who like to use seemingly crank-like arguments that seem to be more obsessed with the personality and in particular the motivations of consensus scientists. It seems to be a general characteristic of almost any crank. Indeed, an example came up just yesterday, in fact, in my discussion of a dubious story about a 17-year-old adolescent with melanoma whose mother supposedly “cured” him with “natural” methods. Get a load of the ad hominem attacks and rants about motivation rather than science on the Department of Children’s Services personnel who apparently tried to prevent the mother from treating her son with quackery in both the post and the comments:

  • Orthodox medicine is unwilling to admit it does not know everything, and it hates competition.
  • In further investigation, Child Protective Social Services is a misnamed government agency whose employees get paid bonuses every time they take children away from their parents.
  • This country is no longer about freedom and human rights. It is controlled by corporations who put profit above everything else, including human life.
  • If you get a chance, Watch “Big Bucks Big Pharma” * Marketing Disease & Pushing Drugs. A multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry exposed of the insidious ways that illness is used, manipulated and created, for capital gain.

Yes, if the story in that post was even true, the doctors and social workers trying to assure that a minor gets adequate medical treatment are motivated not by knowledge of medicine, but rather by greed and a hatred of competition. It never even occurs to the person writing this, a blogger going by the ‘nym Angry Scientist, that the motives of the opposition might be anything other than evil. This attitude is widespread among supporters of “alternative medicine,” and here’s a real beauty that emphasizes this point:

When studying the actions of the FDA, the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society and the behavior of doctors, medical journals and drug companies, the phrase “evil empire” quickly comes to mind. Modern medicine is a medical racket, a drug monopoly and disease treatment scam that has been foisted upon the people of western nations (America, Canada, United Kingdom, etc.) in order to maximize corporate profits.

And the FDA has become the Darth Vader of the empire, using the power of the dark side to inflict pain and destruction upon its enemies in its quest to become the dominate power center of all things related to health.

Yes, advocates of evidence-based medicine are Darth Vader, bent on subjugating the brave iconoclast! You find nary a description of any evidence to support the antiscientific positions supported, but you do find a whole lot of attacks on physicians and scientists supporting the consensus position as corrupt, venal, arrogant, or close-minded.

The same pattern holds true for “intelligent design” creationists, who like to label “Darwinists” as “antireligious” or “atheistic” (which, apparently, if you believe some creationists appears to be the only reason why biologists consider evolution to be a valid theory) so much that it’s become a joke:

Under a new anti-religious dogmatism, scientists and educators are not allowed to even think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator. Do you realize that some of the leading lights of “anti-intelligent design” would not allow a scientist who merely believed in the possibility of an intelligent designer/creator to work for him.

Of course, this is only the beginning. If you believe creationists, supporters of evolution are “arrogant,” hypocrites, or even Frankenstein or the source of Naziism.

And so it goes. HIV/AIDS denialists accuse scientists of being in the thrall of big pharma and wanting to pump people full of drugs for fun and profit; 9/11 Truthers imagine some vast conspiracy, where anyone who refutes their nonsense either wanted 9/11 to happen or is a craven shill of people who wanted 9/11 to happen and actually made it happen. All of this brings us back full circle to some of the AGW “skeptics” who recently invaded my blog. Here’s a sampling of their comments:

  • No I believe he’s [Al Gore] in it for his own self pompous needs. After all – he did invent the internet….But how is flying around in his own private jet and running up $3000/mo electricity bills in his mansion helping?
  • Attacking comedians while – at the same time – covering for Gore’s obvious hypocrisy? It boggles the mind, how you’ll twist yourselves into pretzels, ethics be damned.
  • Al Gore is an bloated idiot. I think we all know that. Tim Slagle is hilarious, and liberals need to get over it.
  • Algore, who continues in spite of his primitivist blatherings, to enjoy a lavish lifestyle even while criticizing the poor and middle class for striving to better themselves. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that he wishes to be a baron of a herd of raggedy feudal serfs.
  • Al Gore, flying around in his private jets and living in a huge house, is just another phony liberal hypocrite, no different from the late Jim Bakker or some creepy tv evangelist working a scam.
  • The Gospel according to Algore gets more and more complex, both by His worshipers ad libbing elaborations ‘pon His pronouncements and by quasiscientists, fat from their government research grants (given with the expectation of certain results).

This intense concentration on the person of a prominent booster of the scientific consensus, rather than on the facts and evidence, reminds me of the way antivaccinationists demonize, for example, Paul Offit. Of course, they accuse him of being in the pocket of big pharma, rather than of hypocrisy, but the opprobrium directed at him is ratcheted up to 11, as it is for Al Gore. Fortunately for Offit, he is not nearly as famous as Al Gore; aside from a relatively small group of antivaccinationists, few know who he is.

Tim Slagle, although he claims to really, really like science feeds into this entire meme, whether he realizes it or not (or whether it would ever be possible to get him to admit it or not) by expanding on his previous characterization of scientists who support the scientific consensus as vengeful geeks. Now, in his latest “defense” of the dodgeball routine, he even asserts that their frustrations lead them to become–gasp!Socialists:

I chronicle the dramatic descent of a smart young boy into the perdition of Socialism. I speculate that there is envy and a desire to control within the hearts of some scientists. Not all scientists, just enough to give my argument some weight. I have met many highly educated people who believe a persons wealth should be in proportion to his education. They claim there’s something wrong with this country, when a guy like Bill Gates could drop out of college and become the world’s wealthiest man. These are the people to whom this bit is dedicated.

Often people without money or power, resent those who have it. Socialism attracts people wrought with envy and impotence. And just like alcoholics often find themselves working in a bar, Socialists often find cover within the environmental movement. The regulations and confiscatory taxation often proposed as environmental solutions, are virtually indistinguishable from Socialism.

Yes, indeed. Not only are “some” scientists vengeful geeks, lusting for power, or unfeeling bureaucrats, but those tendencies all apparently lead “enough to give his argument weight” to Socialism. Of course, Tim doesn’t seem able to name a single scientist whose humiliation on the dodgeball court of youth, metaphorical or real, led him or her to become his caricature of the out-of control Socialist wanting to impose a Green utopia on an unwilling world, but that’s not the real point. The point is to mock the people behind the science, failing to be able to launch a credible attack on the science itself. In Tim’s case, the excuse is, of course, that it’s all a joke or that it’s “observational” about the human nature of scientists. Indeed, one reason these attacks are so ubiquitous is that defenders of dubious ideas actually believe them to be the truth, and occasionally there may even be a grain of truth there. It’s just that it’s usually exaggerated beyond recognition. Moreover, it doesn’t seem to occur to them that such attacks are, for the most part irrelevant. For example, even if Al Gore were both a bloated idiot and a hypocrite (or even a person who liked to torture puppies), it would be utterly irrelevant to the question of whether the science behind AGW is correct or not. A scientific theory does not depend upon the personality of its originator or popularizer; it depends upon how well it fits current evidence.

Several months ago, an HIV/AIDS denialist tried to sweet talk me into a “debate” with Christine Maggiore, a prominent HIV/AIDS denialist whose beliefs led to the tragic death of her daughter. Although on the surface, that rather strange incident doesn’t seem to be of a piece with all the ad hominem attacks and the concentration on personality and motivation over evidence, it does fit in. The reason is that it, too, demonstrates the how obsessed defenders of bad science or pseudoscience tend to be about the identities and qualifications of the opposition. Because there is no legitimate scientific rationale for their position, their fallback is to attack the person. It’s also why, for example, ID creationists like to broadly label defenders of evolution as “atheists” or anti-religious; antivaccinationists like to paint Paul Offit as the Devil Incarnate; alternative medicine mavens like to paint Child Protective Services as ideologues who even get paid bonuses for taking children away from their parents; and, yes, it’s the reason why AGW “skeptics” focus their ire like a laser beam on Al Gore, the most prominent spokesman for action on AGW. They can’t discredit the science; so they discredit the person associated with the science, whether that person is a scientist or not. This tendency is so strong that creationists pointedly refer to “Darwinism” rather than what biologists call it (the theory of evolution) and some AGW “skeptics” will even sneeringly dismiss AGW science as “Algorian Scripture,” even though Al Gore had nothing to do with formulating it or testing it. LIkely, this is based on the same desire to equate hated science with a person who can be torn down that drives campaigns to demonize scientists, be they originators or defenders of a hated hypothesis or theory.

Does this mean that we skeptics are pure as the driven snow on this issue? Of course not. We’re human too. Sometimes frustration with correcting the same canards and fallacies again and again or even just the sheer seductiveness of the pithy retort can lead even the most rational skeptic to flirt with insults, and I don’t pretend to be immune to this temptation all the time. However, in my experience in battling quackery and pseudoscience on Usenet for a decade and for nearly three years on my blog, the first inclination of true skeptics tends not to be to attack the person spouting pseudoscience. Rather, it is, after making sure that what is coming under attack really is pseudoscientific, to attack the pseudoscience itself on the basis of science, logic, and evidence. Certainly that’s what I try to do, although even I would admit that I don’t always succeed in that ideal. (When it comes to Holocaust deniers, I don’t even try, mainly because of the odious anti-Semitic views and Nazi apologia that almost invariably accompany Holocaust denial.) In response, wounded defenders of pseudoscience often confuse such strong criticism of their views with ad hominem attacks against them personally. The two are not the same thing, but it is an easy tactic to equate them.

So what’s a skeptic to do? Obviously, attack what the crank says, not the crank. If a defender of pseudoscience says something that is clearly idiotic, it’s perfectly OK to characterize it as such, as long as one can show why the statement is idiotic. Criticize pseudoscientific statements as much as possible, not the person. If the person keeps saying things that are demonstrably incorrect, over time he’ll attract the appropriate label on himself.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike O'Risal
    November 6, 2007

    Orac,

    Somewhat along these lines, an ex-chiropractor named Aaron has recently done a series of articles about his experience and training as a chiropractor. Realizing that it’s typical for denialists of all stripes to make these sorts of ad hominem attacks, I think it can be useful to have the kind of insider’s view that Aaron has been kind enough to provide. I’ve linked to his series of seven articles in my own blog; you’ll find the links in this entry.

    And just for the record, I grew up not as someone who was picked on and beaten up on the dodgeball court. I was a red-and-blue haired punk rock kid who had a reputation for being the crazy guy you didn’t want to provoke. I had lots o friends and was quite popular with the girls. It wasn’t until much later in life that I morphed into the geeky mycologist that I am today, sans red-and-blue hair (or any hair at all for that matter). Prior to my current career, I also worked in physical labor jobs, including a stint as a guy who carried around heavy bundles of aluminum siding in a warehouse. I’m also a survivalist and former nature photographer who made money shooting pictures of poisonous snakes and up-close shots of alligators. I also ran my own business in Silicon Valley for several years during which I did things like negotiating executive compensation packages with some major CEOs – a process arguably as demanding and dangerous as doing portraits of large, carnivorous reptiles.

    The stereotype that all we scientific types are nerdy little guys with glasses who can’t hold their own in a tough situation, couldn’t get dates as teenagers, etc., is just that – a stereotype. Those are just the guys who win the Nobel prize. ;)

  2. #2 Sastra
    November 6, 2007

    Because there is no legitimate scientific rationale for their position, their fallback is to attack the person. It’s also why, for example, ID creationists like to broadly label defenders of evolution as “atheists” or anti-religious…

    It’s also why religious apologists like to broadly label atheists as “immoral” or anti-God. If you ultimately have nothing to fall back on but the virtue of being a Believer — and the other person isn’t considering that a virtue — then it’s good strategy to try to shift the discussion to a personal level, where the attacks and defenses are easier, than to keep it dispassionately on the actual topic.

  3. #3 David B.
    November 6, 2007

    It never fails to draw me in when somebody opens their contribution to a discussion amongst intelligent adults with, “Al Gore is a fat, bloated idiot.”

    Because no matter what the topic it all comes back to Al Gore’s buoyancy. God I love the first amendment combined with a substandard educational system!

    http://www.theskinofmyteeth.com

    David

  4. #4 PalMD
    November 6, 2007

    This represents an ad hominem to quoque fallacy, among others.

    As I’ve stated elsewhere, non-scientists often confuse the messenger and the message.

  5. #5 Prolificus Madison
    November 6, 2007

    The problem with the majority of humanity — and I’ll even argue internet users (humanity?), is that they cannot even conceive the concept of a difference between attacking a person and attacking a person’s ideas, let alone understand it. The line, as clear as it may seem for people highly experienced in deconstructing arguments, may be fuzzy to the point of legal blindness in other people. Ad hominem is possibly the fastest way to get a layperson to stop listening to a voice of discord, and its posts like the one you’ve made that have to educate people on the difference.

  6. #6 Joseph Hertzlinger
    November 6, 2007

    Hey! I’m the weenie and anti-social malcontent around here and I say that socialists don’t speak for me.

  7. #7 jre
    November 6, 2007

    I had considered adding a comment to that thread, then considered the company I’d be keeping, and decided … naaah.
    There is something about Al Gore that brings out the stupid in people, and criminey — did they ever put it on display this time!
    Perhaps you can create a special category of posts notable for their loon-density in comments. Be sure to include your classic 9/11 woo post.

  8. #8 Infophile
    November 6, 2007

    And the FDA has become the Darth Vader of the empire, using the power of the dark side to inflict pain and destruction upon its enemies in its quest to become the dominate power center of all things related to health.

    Is it just me, or someone asking for a visit from the Vader zombie? It’s as if they’ve heard of the argument ad Hitlerum and are trying to jump to the next level. Instead of comparing their enemies to a man who killing off a few million people, they compare them to a guy who destroyed a planet and killed a few billion. Ugh, it’s just too easy to mock. I wish I could assume it was a parody…

  9. #9 Ahistoricality
    November 6, 2007

    While we’re on the topic of ad hominem, can anyone point to the origin of the use of “Algore” as a pejorative? I think there’s supposed to be some reference or connection they’re making between Al Gore and something else, but I don’t get it. Is it like “teh,” one of those malaprops that becomes a tic? Or is there a coded message?

  10. #10 Texas Reader
    November 6, 2007

    Now this is a fascinating rebuttal. I learned a lot from it and as a non-medical person appreciate your taking the time to go through the issues in accessible language.

    I’m really tired of right wingers throwing personal insults at Al Gore and bringing up the Chappaquidick death all the time. From now on I’ll just call them on it – tell them I’m willing to discuss the substance of an issue but not engage in discussions about the involved people’s bodies and personalities.

  11. #11 Abel Pharmboy
    November 6, 2007

    When studying the actions of the FDA, the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society and the behavior of doctors, medical journals and drug companies, the phrase “evil empire” quickly comes to mind. Modern medicine is a medical racket, a drug monopoly and disease treatment scam…

    I get this one a lot. What I can’t understand is why those who bleat about the pharma shill gambit never seem to target those who are truly making a financial killing in medicine: the managed care companies. When UHC or Cigna are putting up billion+ dollar profits because their administrators ration or restrict the care that docs want to provide, you can’t really blame docs, funding agencies, or medical societies for the current repository of wealth accumulation in the US healthcare system.

  12. #12 Brendan S
    November 6, 2007

    I wonder if the argument is just projecting, however. ‘The Scientist’ is fairly revered in our society for what they do. Growing up to become a scientist is a noble goal.

    I wonder if all these Libertarians and denialists are just bitter they they spent all their time in High School goofing off when the Scientist because the real hero of modern days. And now you have to rag on them because you’re stuck doing poorly reasoned stand up in seedy comedy clubs.

    I’m just saying, you know?

  13. #13 Marya
    November 6, 2007

    Is it just me, or someone asking for a visit from the Vader zombie? It’s as if they’ve heard of the argument ad Hitlerum and are trying to jump to the next level.

    I have to say, I don’t think comparing someone to Darth Vadar is quite as offensive as comparing them to Hitler, although it may be even more ridiculous. After all, Darth Vadar is fictional (and a much-loved fictional character at that), and no one goes around beating people up and threatening to bomb synagogues in Darth Vadar’s name.

  14. #14 Joseph Hertzlinger
    November 6, 2007

    While we’re on the topic of ad hominem, can anyone point to the origin of the use of “Algore” as a pejorative?

    I’m pretty sure this came from Rush Limbaugh. IIRC, the original use was portraying Bill Clinton as a Mad Scientist with an assistant named Algore.

  15. #15 Pinko the Brain
    November 6, 2007

    I wonder if all these Libertarians and denialists are just bitter they they spent all their time in High School goofing off when the Scientist because the real hero of modern days. And now you have to rag on them because you’re stuck doing poorly reasoned stand up in seedy comedy clubs.

    This is sadly more true than most of us know. Many of the self-identified libertarians I’ve known over the years have been relatively poor people who did menial jobs in fact. They were the proverbial trailer park guys who voted to end the “horror” of the estate tax, though they would never get an inheritance, or have one to pass on. The most hilariously sad example was a guy who worked as a house painter and ranted on an email list I was on about the evils of universal health care because, get this, it would increase his taxes. He didn’t have health insurance and made about $15,000/yr. Libertarianism generally seems to attract this group. People who seem to think that they should have been MOTU (masters of the universe) but lacked the smarts or persistence to actually join the ruling elite and are now bitter at anyone and everyone who is doing better than they are.

  16. #16 Orac
    November 6, 2007

    While we’re on the topic of ad hominem, can anyone point to the origin of the use of “Algore” as a pejorative? I think there’s supposed to be some reference or connection they’re making between Al Gore and something else, but I don’t get it. Is it like “teh,” one of those malaprops that becomes a tic? Or is there a coded message?

    At the risk of most of my readers losing all respect for me, I can answer that one. The reason I can answer it is that I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh regularly during the 1990s and even fairly regularly until about 5 years ago. (I’m one of those unusual people who’ve become less conservative as they’ve aged, although I’m still arguably the most conservative-leaning blogger on ScienceBlogs, or at least in the top two or three.)

    “Algore” was a parody of Al Gore on the Limbaugh show in a recurring routine with Count Taxula (Bill Clinton) and his loyal servant “Algore” (a takeoff on “Igor,” I guess). The term Algore entered the right wing jargon and was used in a big way during the 2000 election.

  17. #17 Ahistoricality
    November 6, 2007

    Thanks to both Joseph Hertzlinger and Orac for clearing that up. You have no idea how much that was bugging me….

    I’m a little surprised that it’s as old as it is, since I don’t remember running across it until about a year ago.

  18. #18 The Crack Emcee
    November 6, 2007

    What you guys are missing is the fact that in wanting to spread the GW message – which most critics (even me) acknowledge – you’ve hitched your wagon to someone (Gore) with too much political, and metaphysical, baggage. You can’t, now, complain that we’re being unfair when (cynically) you did the harm to yourselves – and your message. The man is a religious nut, a spiritual creep, a hypocrite, and a GW scaremonger. Now it’s up to you to undo the damage. And picking on comedians/artists, etc., isn’t going help you:

    We’ve got our jobs to do as well.

  19. #19 Michael Suttkus, II
    November 6, 2007

    On the subject of projection, you can see it pretty clearly among the ID creationists. Their co-rallying calls are:

    “ID is not creationism! ID is not religious! ID never mentions god.”

    “Everyone who opposes us does so because they’re anti-god and anti-religion.”

    They do this self-contradictory dance so often it’s not even fun to spot examples anymore. I can’t see, “But all our opponents are obsessed with god!” as anything other than classic projection.

  20. #20 Orac
    November 6, 2007

    The man is a religious nut, a spiritual creep, a hypocrite, and a GW scaremonger.

    A religious nut and spiritual creep? How so?

  21. #21 DLC
    November 6, 2007

    It’s a common theme among fans of pseudoscience, quackery, woo, and yes, some political positions, to attack the messenger instead of the message. Possibly because flaming the other guy is easier than attempting to refute his point.

  22. #22 Rjaye
    November 6, 2007

    The whole libertarian thing seems to be connected to insecurity. I have many friends who are libertarian, and they all take care of their families and work hard, but there’s something not quite connecting between the emotional part of their brains and their rational bits. There’s a paranoia so out of joint and without proof, it can’t be argued with. Most of my friends have weird notions of what happens in the world, without a shred of proof, from taxes to CPS to the FDA.

    Child Protective Services is a good example. No-one considers that this is commonly one of the poorest financed departments in state budgets, and the idea of bonuses for pulling kids out of families? From where would this money come from? Oh, yeah, and where would the kid be placed? In Washington State, we have half the minimum number of foster homes available for the kids who need it. It is so odd to hear these tinhat theories regarding CPS. Short of torture, the odds of a child, especially an older teen child, being pulled from a home is close to nil. In fact, the opposite is true: not enough is done to protect children from abusive parents.

    I don’t know, but someone put Respectful Insolence on their mailing list…goony boos…..

  23. #23 Uncle Dave
    November 6, 2007

    Is it a common theme to review the IPCC report and understand that besides the fact of Global warming and apparent man made influences, that the climate models are estimates about a very complex mechanism. Possibly so complex that of the 2000 scientists that contributed, of which 100 may be climate scientists, there is variation and some concern as to what may be taking place that as yet is not understood.
    Lets not over simplify climate research. Estimates as to the degree (%)of man made influence on GW are not universally accepted. Thats not to say in any way that it is not an influence or that it is not a large influence. But how that factor influences varibles and constants in climate models and projections remains a question.
    Notable researchers that have issues with some of the projections such as Nobel laureate and IPCC report contributor John Christy may be wrong, but all good researchers and scientists will be revealed when they find themselves on the short end of the climate equation and admit that they were incorrect in their assertions.

    As yet there has been nothing to deter my view that there is more to be learned with climate models and there may very well be some more surprises ahead. Then again, maybe I’m wrong; in the mean time I’ll add more solar panels to the roof…..

  24. #24 ks
    November 7, 2007

    did everybody catch what Uncle Dave just did?

    “Estimates as to the degree (%)of man made influence on GW are not universally accepted.”

    it’s the “impossible expectation”! in this case it is also the irrelevant expectation. climate is not simply a sum of all the parts as their are synergistic aspects, feedbacks, etc. http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2007/05/impossible_expectations_and_mo.php

    thanks for playing Uncle Dave

  25. #25 Tom T.
    November 7, 2007

    People who seem to think that they should have been MOTU (masters of the universe) but lacked the smarts or persistence to actually join the ruling elite and are now bitter at anyone and everyone who is doing better than they are.

    Perhaps this was meant ironically, but I thought I’d point out that this is an ad hominem argument.

  26. #26 Robster, FCD
    November 7, 2007

    Dave,

    Notable researchers that have issues with some of the projections such as Nobel laureate and IPCC report contributor John Christy may be wrong, but all good researchers and scientists will be revealed when they find themselves on the short end of the climate equation and admit that they were incorrect in their assertions.

    I know it has become fashionable to refer to Christy as Nobel Laureate, but it ignores that he left said group in a huff (and one rumor among the “skeptics” is that he refused to accept his part in the award), and the contributions of the other researchers (and co-laureates) who find Christy’s opinion to be unsupported by the evidence.

    If you plan on referring to Christy as a laureate, be fair and refer to all members of the IPCC group as the same. Regardless, it is an appeal to authority, which has no place in science. But since Christy’s favorite tricks are appeals to complexity and ignorance, it shouldn’t be shocking that it is now part of his self promotion spiel.

    The short end of the evidence stick is already here. Yes, models are imperfect, but that isn’t evidence that they are useless or should be ignored.

    Will there be surprises? Yes. The most recent surprises was that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting faster than predicted. We also have learned that the arctic sea ice is melting much faster than thought as well, which will turn the arctic into a solar collector instead of a solar reflector. With this new data, the IPCC report is already being referred to as too conservative.

    The field of research is advancing at such a rapid rate that the IPCC report is out of date, but not in favor of the so called skeptics.

  27. #27 trrll
    November 7, 2007

    As yet there has been nothing to deter my view that there is more to be learned with climate models and there may very well be some more surprises ahead.

    And there never will be. This is one of those remarks that sounds balanced, perhaps even profound, but is actually totally vacuous, because in science, there is always more to be learned. There is certainly more to be learned about gravity, yet we know enough to be reasonably confident that it would be a Bad Thing if your airplane were to fall out of the sky, and we are willing to go to considerable expense to minimize that risk.

    Is it possible that global warming will be a bit of a fizzle, with temperatures peaking a couple of degrees higher and then declining due to the emergence of low carbon technologies? Yes, that’s toward the extreme lower end of the projections. Do we really want to bet millions of lives on that hope? It hardly seems prudent. After all, on the other end, nobody is absolutely certain that the Greenland and antarctic ice sheets won’t melt fast enough for Al Gore’s warning of a huge rise in sea level to come true in decades (rather than centuries as more conservative estimates have it).

  28. #28 TTT
    November 7, 2007

    In wanting to spread the GW message – which most critics (even me) acknowledge – you’ve hitched your wagon to someone (Gore) with too much political, and metaphysical, baggage. You can’t, now, complain that we’re being unfair when (cynically) you did the harm to yourselves – and your message. The man is a religious nut, a spiritual creep, a hypocrite, and a GW scaremonger.

    Take Gore out of the equation, and the deniers would use those exact same epithets about whoever else was saying it instead of him. Or modify Gore’s behavior in some way, and the response would still be the same. Global warming denialism is not subject to rational, good-faith arguments. It is all a matter of ideological anti-environmentalism. Anyone who ever tried to spread the message by any means would be smeared just as thoroughly.

  29. #29 Joseph Hertzlinger
    November 7, 2007

    I wonder if all these Libertarians and denialists are just bitter they they spent all their time in High School goofing off when the Scientist because the real hero of modern days.

    There aren’t any libertarians who are scientists? How’s that again?

  30. #30 jre
    November 7, 2007

    Note Brendan’s use of the word “these.” The comment refers specifically to the gaggle of loons who swarmed over the referenced thread to rail against Al Gore and protest that the IPCC consensus just has to be wrong. An honest scientist, familiar with the subject material, would have to concede that the IPCC is probably right and that Al Gore’s reporting of it is broadly accurate — and that’s true whether you’re a Libertarian or not.

  31. #31 Pinko the Brain
    November 7, 2007

    Perhaps this was meant ironically, but I thought I’d point out that this is an ad hominem argument.

    No it isn’t. An ad hominem is of the form “Hitler liked teddy bears, you like teddy bears and that makes you a Nazi”. I was simply pointing out that in my experience one of the main engines driving the libertarian machine is personal resentment and a sort of generalized anti-social stance that condemns everything where government plays a role, from the state universities to quasi-governmental panels like the IPCC. It’s all one big conspiracy designed by the effete coastal liberals to tax us more. That doesn’t mean that by some accident of history St. Rand and her followers might not have been right (though I put the Christian Rapture above this in likelihood). It just means that a lot of people who take this position seem to be rather transparently looking for a reason to explain their own lack of success. I mean I’ve actually heard this argument offered as in the above example. People will tell you that they are poor because of taxes when it’s indisputable that their tax burden is close to non-existent and that they are poor because of low wages and few actual job skills.

  32. #32 trrll
    November 7, 2007

    No it isn’t. An ad hominem is of the form “Hitler liked teddy bears, you like teddy bears and that makes you a Nazi”.

    That is more along the lines of guilt by association. An ad hominem argument is a “consider the source” argument, along the lines of “You are wrong because you are motivated by personal profit/desire for publicity/personal resentment.” Personal comments or insults are not necessarily ad hominem argument; for example, it is not an ad hominem argument to say, “You are wrong for reasons A, B, and C, and by the way I think that you are motivated by personal profit/desire for publicity/personal resentment,” because in this case the argument is independent of the personal comments.

  33. #33 jen_m
    November 7, 2007

    Guilt by association is a form of ad hominem argument, sometimes. But to belabor the point, ad hominem arguments are those that address the qualities of the speaker rather than the point of the argument.

    Taken without an argument, “Libertarians seem to think that they should have been masters of the universe,” or, “Libertarians are filled with cream cheese and jelly,” are not appeals to logic of any sort, and so are not ad-hominem arguments. Whether they are statements of fact is also open to discussion.

    “Hitler liked teddy bears, you like teddy bears and that makes you a Nazi,” is a nothing. It looks sort of like a syllogism, but it isn’t one. (To be one it would have to run more along the lines of “All those who love teddy bears are Nazis, you love teddy bears, ergo you are a Nazi.”) For this to be an ad-hominem statement, it would really have to run along the lines of, “You say teddy bears aren’t Nazis, but of course you like cream cheese, you half-wit.” (That’s ad hominem abusive.)

    Ad hominem circumstantial: “You say teddy bears aren’t Nazis, but you are a toymaker so of course you would.” (There’s your guilt by association, too.)

    Ad hominem tu quoque: “You say teddy bears are Nazis, but you’re a Nazi yourself!” Well, maybe so, but that’s not relevant, is it?

    Ad hominem arguments can be nonfallacious if they are used to point up inconsistencies in the argument – if a person has a specific quality, and that quality is under discussion and inconsistent with a statement that he’s made, then it’s not fallacious. “You say that teddy bears are never Nazis. But you, sir, are a large stuffed bear dressed in a Nazi uniform!”

    Another example of non-fallacious ad hominem: “Scientists are making argument X. All scientists are permanently jealous. Jealousy always renders one illogical. Ergo the scientists’ argument is illogical.” (That’s a perfectly beautiful logical argument. The premises are ridiculous, but the argument is fine.)

  34. #34 Uncle Dave
    November 7, 2007

    “I know it has become fashionable to refer to Christy as Nobel Laureate, but it ignores that he left said group in a huff (and one rumor among the “skeptics” is that he refused to accept his part in the award), and the contributions of the other researchers (and co-laureates) who find Christy’s opinion to be unsupported by the evidence.”

    Look, he is a Nobel Laureate, along with others. Fact. Unless someone contributing to this site has a Nobel for their work in climate research, I find pushing him off as just another one of those Nobel thousands a bit weak. Somebody let him in the door, and his credentials seems pretty impressive as anyone elses?
    What ever he said or did not say concerning said award I could care less. The other researchers have a right as well as he to disagree with the research group. Mr Christy’s contribution is as notable as any of the others. Particularly so since he is one of the few climate scientists that contributed to the IPCC report.

    I quoted from the report and no one has countered that portion of the report quoted. That’s all, nothing more.

    Everyone get back in your canoe’s theres nothing the see here, move along……….

  35. #35 Uncle Dave
    November 7, 2007

    “And there never will be. This is one of those remarks that sounds balanced, perhaps even profound, but is actually totally vacuous, because in science, there is always more to be learned. There is certainly more to be learned about gravity, yet we know enough to be reasonably confident that it would be a Bad Thing if your airplane were to fall out of the sky, and we are willing to go to considerable expense to minimize that risk.”

    What? Nice try Aristotle.
    The research is not done, far from it and the surprises I refer may likely be in changes to what is “expected”. Not 180 degree changes but climate variations, for which this whole issue is about – discussion as to the accuracy of the models. Oh wait thats sacred too…

    “Is it possible that global warming will be a bit of a fizzle, with temperatures peaking a couple of degrees higher and then declining due to the emergence of low carbon technologies?”

    Or decline from another variable?????
    Yes. And again with the “all or nothing argument” that those that do not eat the whole meal are complete deniers of global warming. Read the IPCC report then read my quotes removed from said report.

    Now Robster FCD has white washed my position as well insinuating my position is that the models are “useless”. Bullsh*t! that’s a pretty lousy trick, or is it a reading comprehension issue?

    Read the F’ing report on correlation to man made influence

    Watch the Cape Buffalo begin to circle as the wolf crosses the tundra in the distance……

    Jesus Christ this is like Nathanial Hawthorne’s, Scarlett Letter at this point. Just white wash an individual if there is so much as a discussion of model variation and predictions- he must be one of those lay in the weeds outliers, watch him close.

  36. #36 Robster, FCD
    November 8, 2007

    Dave,

    Now Robster FCD has white washed my position as well insinuating my position is that the models are “useless”. Bullsh*t! that’s a pretty lousy trick, or is it a reading comprehension issue?

    Protesting overmuch, are we? I pointed out that incomplete models are not useless. I did not say that this was your position, although it is the position of many so called skeptics.

    But let’s go ahead and explore this.

    Are the models useful for predicting future trends in climate? Should we or should we not base our environmental policy on these evidence based models, when combined with observations and data?

    What variation is there in the models? Am I wrong in saying more heat to lots more heat? Is there a no change or cold model?

    And the report itself is too conservative based on recent observations.

  37. #37 trrll
    November 8, 2007

    Or decline from another variable?????
    Yes. And again with the “all or nothing argument” that those that do not eat the whole meal are complete deniers of global warming. Read the IPCC report then read my quotes removed from said report.

    Decline from another variable? That is to me a more worrisome scenario, because if there is some unanticipated feedback powerful enough to cause temperature to decline in the face of increasingly strong greenhouse gas forcing, it could plausibly overshoot and lead us into ice age territory, which would be far more disastrous than the worst global warming scenarios. None of the current climate models predict that, but if you invoke some mysterious “other variable,” then it certainly cannot be ruled out. It’s probably more likely than any kind of “soft landing” scenario that returns us to more familiar temperatures. To me, the suggestion that the models could be off to such an extreme extent is more disturbing than the outer ranges of the current prediction–anybody who truly believes this should be pushing even harder for CO2 control.

    And I don’t believe that it is “all or nothing.” The IPCC focused on the mid range of the estimates, which range from mild to catastrophic. This is reasonable, but from the standpoint of planning, the potential impact of the extremes has to be considered. After all, if nobody bothered to consider low probability, high impact outcomes, then nobody would ever buy insurance. In particular, I think that Gore was wise to point out the potential impact of ice cap melting. Nobody currently understands why the ice caps are melting fasting than predicted, and in the absence of a theory to deal with this, the IPCC chose to ignore it. But the potential impact is large enough that it needs to be considered.

  38. #38 Uncle Dave
    November 9, 2007

    Robster FCD

    Clearly, my protest is one of an extrapolation of models being worthless, which was not my position.

    http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10136&page=10

    My position merely points to Chapter 1 of the NRC report.
    Thats all; seems pretty clear that the ultimate picture is off course not so clear.
    It is not a good picture of our environment but there seemed to be in my comprehension of many of the statements (not yours solely but trrll as well)that it is some sort of done deal much like trll equated using his weight vs. lift analogy while flying in airplanes (close enough to matter).

    We could argue all day about the finite in the accuracy of models but that was not my intent. There seems to be the view that this is all figured out already (have we reached a tipping point that the IPCC report references – possibly? we don’t know for sure)
    Are the models good enough as trll indicates, the report seems to differ from that perspective.

    I don not suggest that we ignore programs of conservation and pollution minimization (population growth = more pollution = warming) I will not argue that.

    I will turn a questionable eye at suggestion that it is all figured out (much like our understanding of gravity is close enough for our purposes analogy) through our most up to date modeling efforts.
    I do not believe that is so and the report seems to honor that view.

    I really don’t intend on going back in forth on specific data, I referenced the NRC report and that report seems to the be well outside the realms of crank being authored by the OSB and PRB to name a few.

    Modeling the complex weather systems and interactions (industrial, population growth, geological etc) of those systems on global temperature change is not an exact science by any means. Is it close enough? Probably so, maybe not, I can’t say, but I try and limit my perspective to the content and scope of the NRC report since I have not analyzed the data specifiically and do not intend to for obvious reasons.

    Again, yes we are experiencing rapid climate change
    Yes, mans activities are likely a significant contributor
    yes deforestation a general pop. growth are having an impact on climate.

    NO argument here. However my point is that the models are not in any means as straight forward and close enough much like gravitational understanding in any way. This is based on NRC report content not my opinion.

    I have spent waaaaaaaaaaay to much time on this site lately, time to do something constructive

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